I had committed to travelling and racing with my dear friend Kristen Loblaw (who also happens to be a blogger that lives in London, Ontario) for the 2014 Kincardine Women’s Triathlon. I couldn’t race this year so decided to volunteer. I went with Kristen to the Friday night race orientation. I met the volunteer coordinator and gave her a promised hug. Organizing event volunteers is pretty demanding work and she was doing a great job.
I was surprised at the orientation that most technical information was given by men. I was actually taken aback when we were referred to as “ladies” and when they made comments about how when cycling it was a race and not a chance to talk about outfits and hair. Kristen and I chatted about that later, I hadn’t expected low grade sexism at a women’s event and I had thought it would be a women run for women type thing. It’s clear long time participants and organizers know each other. It was the 14th year for the race and their level of comfort might have contributed to assuming we’d all be in on the reparté.
That evening I was pretty pumped that one of the vendors actually had XXL tri suits and shorts and they were a pretty amazing price. I totally charged those bad boys (sorry budget).
Finding out we had adjoining room back at the hotel with Tracy was a big bonus and it helped me wind down from the excitement of getting to town and situated.
The morning of the race it hit really hard that I wasn’t racing. It was a beautiful route and the weather was perfect. Transition was the perfect absorbing volunteer role as I helped newbies rack their bike. My round shape was an asset as I was approached by nervous women who were also curvy and I encouraged them. I shared that when I feel nervous I know it is my body getting ready to release a lot of energy I need for the race.
I helped rack all sorts of bicycles and it was interesting seeing the wide range of gear and pre-race rituals. I saw the race from a new perspective and got to meet a lot of women who were volunteering and participating. Since most folks arrive quite early they had time to chat and I look forward to seeing them next year.
I think every spectator and volunteer should be cheering and clapping every participant through the gate, it adds to the encouraging atmosphere, this is hard after all. With a duathlon and triathlon there were lots of women to celebrate. I was happily hoarse by the end of my 4 hour shift.
The Triathlon Ontario Official was very interesting to talk to and I gained a new perspective on race safety, that was his one and only goal, all rules fed this purpose. He used his authority swiftly, gently, and with unwavering conviction. Before the race started all basins, large bags and trays were placed away from the rack (much to the chagrin of participants who want to bathe their feet after the swim before rolling on socks). While the cycling was happening he told us to remove all wetsuits and other items from the rack. It was a hustle I didn’t expect.
The busiest time in transition is when the cycling ends and people are tired and slightly confused as they start the final leg. I had worn a blue long sleeve shirt under the red volunteer shirt so my arms were visible as I waved and directed participants out the running gate. You could see some women questioning if they could do the run so another volunteer and I decided we would tell everyone they were “looking good”, “doing great”, “looking strong” and “you got this, go, go, go!”. I tried to match the words to the face and smile, I like that when I race, that people care and I think others like that too.
Overall it was a great experience and motivated me to map out my training plan so I can be sure to be ready next year for what will likely be a great event. Would I volunteer again? Absolutely. Would I pay for race registration, hotel and meals away to do it? Probably not.
I’ve been thinking about my obligations to volunteer a lot though. If I want triathlons and women’s sports to thrive they need day of event volunteers and folks committed year round to planning and executing the race. So when a race is in town that I’m not registered for I best step forward, it’s in my self interest to make sure the kind of events I want to participate in are working well.
Natalie raises money for a not for profit to keep a roof over her head, eat great food and do fun things. She is trying to be more zen and less heart-attack-waiting-to-happen but that is hard for A-types so she will also be kind to herself when she’s a bit wound up.